Slovenia's new Spatial Development Strategy 2050 – on track towards a Just and Green Europe
by Christian Lüer (comments: 0)
by Tomaž Miklavčič (Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning; Spatial Planning, Construction and Housing Directorate; Slovenia)
The Territorial Agenda 2030 will continue along the lines of the Territorial Agenda 2020 from 2011 and promote spatial development of Europe for increasing territorial cohesion, an objective that spatial planners in Europe have been striving to achieve for decades. The latest draft of the Territorial Agenda 2030 calls on European countries to promote the Territorial Agenda 2030 priorities and to engage relevant players in all sector policies and at all levels of government. This includes embedding the Territorial Agenda 2030 in national spatial planning and other relevant contexts.
Slovenia is fully committed to the implementation of the Territorial Agenda 2030 and seized the opportunity of redesigning its national spatial development policy for reinforcing the Territorial Agenda 2030 priorities not only in its main planning document but in spatial planning at all levels of government. In the following, the close link between the Territorial Agenda 2030 and Slovenia’s new national spatial development strategy will be explored.
The renewal of Slovenia’s Spatial Development Strategy
The current national document for strategic spatial development, the Spatial Development Strategy of Slovenia (‘Strategija prostorskega razvoja Slovenije’), was adopted in 2004. It follows a long-standing policy of promoting polycentric spatial development. Polycentric development has been a key concept not only of Slovenian but also of European spatial planning, especially since the adoption of the European Spatial Development Perspective in 1999 – also referred to as the ‘mother document’ of European spatial planning. In this view, one can argue that national spatial planning in Slovenia has already been following key principles of European spatial planning for some decades.
Since 2015, the new national spatial strategy has been under preparation. The vision of this strategy is to achieve territorial cohesion and ensure a high quality of life for all people. The proposed strategic goals aim at setting the framework conditions for achieving it. This overarching vision is fully in line with the overall rationale of the Territorial Agenda 2030 to ensure a sustainable future for all places and people.
Challenges for spatial development
The future spatial development is directly related to those development trends that have transformed the space so far, and to the identified key social, environmental and economic challenges that lie ahead: Demographic and climate change, increasing imbalances within/between places, uneven accessibility to services of general interest and working opportunities, necessity of energy transition and decarbonization of energy production, and quality of governance. These challenges were identified in both the Territorial Agenda 2030 and Slovenia’s new Spatial Development Strategy. Consequently, both documents are urging for actions to adequately and timely address the abovementioned challenges.
One of the obstacles preventing effective actions and policy measures is rooted in incoherencies between public policies at all administrative levels. The Territorial Agenda 2030 therefore underlines the relevance of the place-based approach, policy coordination and effective multi-policy framework. Similarly, Slovenia’s Spatial Development Strategy 2050 calls on national sector policies at different governance levels to jointly develop and implement policies, this way achieving spatial synergies. In addition, it provides guidelines for different sector policies with a recognised strong spatial dimension, e.g. transport and energy infrastructure, energy transition, supply of minerals, rural development, agriculture, forestry and fishery, nature conservation, tourism, defense and natural disaster prevention. The necessity of coordinating settlement and transport development is particularly highlighted as the daily commuting problems to the urban centers and fragmentation of settlement structures are prevalent and severe challenges in Slovenia.
Priorities for spatial development
The Territorial Agenda 2030 sets two main objectives for Europe, each of which further specified through three priorities. In contrast to this, Slovenia’s Spatial Development Strategy 2050 sets five strategic spatial development goals:
- Rational and efficient spatial development;
- Competitiveness of cities;
- Quality of life in urban and rural areas;
- Strengthened spatial identity; and
- Territorial resilience, multifunctionality and adaptation to changes.
At a first glance the priorities and goals differ, but a more in-depth review reveals similarities and strong coherence between both documents. ‘Balanced Europe’, ‘Functional Regions’ and ‘Integration beyond borders’ are defined as priorities for ‘A Just Europe’. The same elements are highlighted by the strategic development goals of ‘Rational and efficient spatial development’ and ‘Competitiveness of cities’ in Slovenia’s Spatial Development Strategy 2050. The role of cross-border areas and the importance of cross-border connections and cooperation are recognized to a greater extent than in the previous national strategy. As specific building blocks of cross-border cooperation, the importance of provision of cross-border public services and the role of five cross-border functional urban areas located at the border with Austria, Croatia and Italy are explicitly mentioned. Better cooperation and networking among major urban centres and their surrounding areas is promoted in practice by designating ‘wider urban areas’.
The role of spatial planning in tackling global challenges such as environmental sustainability and climate change is addressed in the Territorial Agenda 2030 under the objective of ‘A Green Europe’. The three related priorities are also relevant for Slovenia’s Spatial Development Strategy 2050: A ‘Healthy Environment’, of which ecosystems and their services are an important part, is operationalised through a national green infrastructure system which connects, and consists of, various green urban systems that are also important elements of municipal spatial plans. Guidelines for urban development determine the components of these systems (e.g. parks, playgrounds, urban forests, water surfaces), their characteristics, functions and accessibility criteria. ‘Circular Economy’, although mentioned, does not play a particular important role in the new Spatial Development Strategy, which rather focuses on ‘circular’ land management. In this context, urban renewal, prevention of soil sealing and greenfield development are recognised as key concepts for urban development. Another key element of urban renewal in Slovenia refers to ‘Sustainable Connections’. The Spatial Development Strategy emphasises that a different design of cities and neighbourhoods, based on the concept of mixed land use, as well as access to high-quality communication networks can reduce mobility needs in both urban and rural areas.
Implementation of the Territorial Agenda 2030 through pilot actions
The ambition of both the new Spatial Development Strategy for Slovenia 2050 and the Territorial Agenda 2030 is to promote greater coherence of sector and spatial policies and reduce negative effects of sector policies on spatial structures and spatial development. To further explore the relationship between sector policies and spatial development policies and gain practical insights, Slovenia joined the Territorial Agenda 2030 pilot action on Territorial Impact Assessments under Polish leadership. This pilot action aims at developing a better understanding of how sector policies shape spatial imbalances as to design better policies in the future. For this purpose, a flexible methodology of Territorial Impact Assessment will be developed and implemented. The Slovenian ministry seeks to assess the anticipated territorial impact of a selected sector policy, raise awareness among responsible policy makers for the spatial dimension of their policy and the necessity to better coordinate it with other policies. The pilot action will be launched at the ministerial meeting in Leipzig in December 2020.